By Quinn Moreland.
Until recently, it seemed unlikely that there would ever be a fourth Slowdive record. Just a week after the February 1995 release of third album Pygmalion, the British quintet was dropped from Creation Records and effectively broke up. Pygmalion’s drastic departure from dream-pop had prompted the dissolution in multiple ways. Drummer Simon Scott had left Slowdive the previous year, feeling disillusioned by the drum machines, computers, and loops that guitarist and vocalist Neil Halstead had used to make the album **largely on his own. But this direction also drew sneers from the British music press, who at that moment seemed more content to boogie to Britpop than sway to shoegaze. “Yet more career suicide,” was how the NME described Pygmalion.
The “yet more” is crucial here. For as beloved as Slowdive have become among a younger generation of subterranean listeners, their first two albums—1991’s Just for a Day and 1993’s Souvlaki—hadn’t made them critical darlings like Creation labelmates My Bloody Valentine. But then shoegaze and dream-pop experienced an unexpected revival in the late ’00s, as acts like Beach House and M83 hit their strides, chillwave boomed, and MBV finally returned to the road. With it came a new appreciation for Slowdive. By 2014, the demand for their reunion was high enough to support a five-month world tour and a slew of festival performances—and come May 5th, a new album via Dead Oceans. Although it’s been more than two decades since the group ganged up on the delay pedals in the studio, the swirling guitars, woozy harmonies, and soaring choruses of Slowdive make it sound like Souvlaki’s long-lost sister.
Pitchfork spoke to Halstead about why Slowdive decided to come back, what cemented shoegaze’s legacy, and how records still should require a listening ritual.
Pitchfork: Were you surprised at all by the warm reception to your reunion shows?
Neil Halstead: We were completely taken off-guard! People said to us, “You should get back together, you guys would be surprised.” And we were. We were also surprised that the audience was a younger generation, which was brilliant. It was heartening to see that the records have resonated with not just kids of our age.
How did it go from playing some shows to recording a new album?
When we first talked about getting back together, the main emphasis was on trying to do a record. Doing shows on and off for a year and a half was a really good way for us to create some momentum to make a record. Obviously we didn’t hit the ground running—we had to crank the engine up again. Because for us, it was a bit like, What kind of record would we do? Would it be like Pygmalion—which was more electronic, sample-based, ambient—or would it be something closer to our earlier stuff, which was noisier and more band-based? We ended up going for something that has the momentum of playing live. It’s a stepping stone record for us in terms of getting back into doing Slowdive—a familiar record for anyone who's heard us.
We’re all really excited about doing another record at this point. I always think of records as a moment in time. The next moment is maybe where we push the boundaries a bit more, where it doesn’t have to necessarily be so familiar.
You were the primary composer on ***Pygmalion*****. Was the process more collaborative this time?**
This one was definitely a lot more collaborative than Pygmalion. A lot of Pygmalion was done in my bedroom, then I’d bring it to everyone. We were at a weird point in the band then. I was kinda dragging people along with that record.
Everyone had a hand in bringing the new songs to fruition. “Falling Ashes” was a song that Simon [Scott, drummer] had more input on—he's super into field music and ambient stuff. Which was interesting because Simon was the first person to leave the band, so he wasn't involved with Pygmalion at all. He still says that’s the record he wished he was involved with, because that’s more of where he’s at musically these days.
What’s one perspective you brought to this album that perhaps you didn’t have before?
Around Pygmalion, we were all just starting to get more familiar with how studios work and working away with our own selves. We finished the band right at the point when you could buy a laptop and a couple of microphones and make a record, where computers were getting smarter with this stuff. Bringing that part of how you can work now to Slowdive was interesting.
About a year and a half ago, we started popping in studios. We went back to the first studio we ever did anything in [Whitehouse Recording Studio in Somerset], which was exactly the same. What would happen is, we’d do a few days in a studio here and there, then I’d bring it back to my studio in Cornwall and play around with it, send stuff to the other guys. We’d get back together again and work on something else or rework the old ideas. In the same way we made our first album, it was written and recorded at the same time. We still work together quite well—it would’ve been pretty disastrous if we’d lost that part of the Slowdive chemistry.
Why do you think shoegaze has stuck around?
Partly because the bands were never big bands—they were always these little bands making underground music and then Britpop came. In England, that opened up the indie world to the mainstream world. But shoegaze never became part of the big music industry. So maybe it was ripe for rediscovery, in the same way that when those Nuggets collections and Pebbles compilations—the old garage rock and psych—were reissued in the ’80s, they became really influential. You’d never heard your parents playing those records—they were never mainstream music. But they were brilliant bands that got a second bite after they were re-released. Maybe the internet had a real good impact on shoegaze because it’s given kids now a chance to check it out.
Speaking of a younger generation finding shoegaze, you worked with Beach House producer Chris Coady on the new album. Why him?
We definitely wanted to work with Chris because we all love Beach House’s records, and we love the way they sound. The stuff he worked on previously definitely had an influence on asking him to get involved.
We recorded the whole record but we needed someone to come in and just polish it, bring it together. We sent out tracks to a few different people, and we asked Chris if he wouldn’t mind doing a demo mix for us. When his came back, we thought, Yes, that’s the way we want to hear that song. He works out of Sunset Sound in L.A., which has this kind of brilliant heritage in pop music—all the Doors records, Beach Boys. That was a bias, really—we didn't realize that when we asked Chris to do it—but we all went out there.
This is the first Slowdive album in the age of streaming. How would you prefer people listen to it?
I would prefer people listen to it as an album, but I know that’s old fashioned. Songs need homes—that's how you create it. We’re already conscious of making a record with an A-side and a B-side, which is how we made all our records. We’re definitely that generation that actually grew up going to buy albums, getting really into artwork, reading up on them, and really enjoying them as a piece of art. For me, there’s still a brilliant kind of buzz when you buy a record: the ritual of sitting down, putting on the record player, listening to the A-side, and then turning it over.
This story originally appeared on Pitchfork.
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